The Evolving Kansas City Chiefs’ Defense

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

We heard it all offseason. Numerous insiders claiming Bob Sutton’s defense was preparing to attack opposing offenses – that he would bring blitzes and exotic formations, and capitalize on the talent that was already on the team. The big story was simple: come Hell or high water, the Chiefs were going to get to the quarterback. The phrase, “the new, attacking defense” became a mantra of sorts around these parts.

So far, Bob Sutton’s squad has indeed gotten after the quarterback. After 3 games, the Chiefs lead the NFL in sacks, with 15.

How have they done it? It’s not as clear-cut as one would think. After Romeo Crennel’s 2-Gap 3-4 “bend-but-still-break” scheme proved fruitless, Chiefs fans nationwide were clamoring for an attack-style defense that utilized the skills of the Chiefs’ long list of high-drafted defenders. While most were focused on a switch to the 1-Gap, what was almost forgotten was what truly makes a good coach: playing to the strength of your players, and the weaknesses of your opponents. That’s exactly what Bob Sutton has done. He’s identified his player’s strengths and has picked on his opponent’s soft spots.

On Thursday, Chiefs Defensive End Mike DeVito was asked if playing an “attack-style defense” was more natural for a defender. His response was telling:

“I’m sure it depends on each individual, but this defense offers both. Sometimes you’re playing in a two-gap and sometimes you’re playing in a 4-3, so it’s kind of a hybrid. It gives guys the opportunity to do what they’re good at.”

What DeVito touches on here seems to be the key to it all. It wasn’t the fact that Romeo played a 2-Gap that resulted in an underwhelming defensive team. It was the fact that Romeo expected his players to conform to his defense, instead of leveraging his player’s skills for the betterment of the team. We heard this from Romeo all season last year as Dontari Poe, and the other high draft picks along the Chiefs defensive line were developing slowly as players. Romeo’s line was always a version of, “learning this defense takes time for defensive lineman.”

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Dontari Poe looks great this year, but it’s interesting to think about where he could be in his development had Romeo not forced him into the 2-Gap, play after play. As Bob Sutton told the media on Thursday: “[Dontari]’s the classic guy to push the pocket guy 300-400 pound, but Poe can beat you individually. That’s the thing you need to know. Dontari can go by you just like one of the rushers can go by, so he provides both things to our defense.”

But last year, Dontari was explicitly told not to fly past blockers “just like one of the rushers” as Sutton mentions. He was told to engage his blocker, read the play, and react to it. Something counter to what he’d been coached to do his entire life.

Just as Sutton’s defense has been tailored to its players, it has also been tweaked each game in a concerted effort to attack the weaknesses of the Chiefs’ particular opponent for that week (otherwise known as good coaching). Each weekly plan by Sutton has built-in counter-plans so the team knows how to adjust, depending on how the opponent plays them throughout the contest. According to Sutton, the Chiefs “go in with a plan of how we’re going to attack a specific team and within that plan are usually some sub-plans that go on because like I always say, the enemy has a (plan) and we can say they’re going to do that but they don’t have to do it.” This is opposition to Romeo Crennel, who seemingly rolled out the same game plan week after week.

Though each of Sutton’s weekly plans are designed to exploit weaknesses, and put Chief defenders in the best position to succeed, the message is always the same. “We’re going after people,” said Sutton on Thursday. “[W]e’re training people on just rushing straight up and more importantly, know who you’re playing against, [and] know how to adapt if they adjust and decide to go a different route.”

It’s called evolution. This evolution isn’t coming over a period of years, either. It’s coming week after week, and day after day. It’s like the old saying about the NFL, “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” This defense is growing, which is impressive, because they’re already playing like Giants.

Speaking of Giants, what will the Chiefs defense be doing this weekend? Bob Sutton gave us a hint: “[Y]ou have to start with Eli, he’s the guy.”

Here’s to starting with Eli. Here’s to getting to the quarterback. Here’s to evolving.

Topics: Bob Sutton, Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs, Mike DeVito, Romeo Crennel

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  • Chris Tarrants

    I wonder how much sleep Eli is going to lose thinking about this defense? He knows there coming and knows that there is nothing he can do to stop them

    • Josh Landers

      I know. I would not want to be in his shoes. I wouldn’t want to be in ANY opposing qb’s, for that matter. Especially in arrowhead.

    • PunjabiPete

      If he wants to know what’s going to happen Justin Houston said just say it out loud and they will answer from under his bed.

  • RepOurChiefs

    Ha!

    • Michael Shaw

      ROFLMAO!!!!!!!

  • KCMikeG

    Great post! Record setting day for Houston and the defense!

    • P Heitman

      Just knocked on wood. We’re safe. HAHA. Thanks for reading, Mike.

    • kcpauly

      Well I guess if anybody’s going to break DT’s single game sack record I would have it be Houston, or Hali, or any Chief for that matter
      Go Chiefs!!!!!!!!!!

  • freshmeat62

    I always thought that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, that it takes time to learn the 3-4 defense. Some times 3 or 4 years. Heck most of these coaches are fired or move on in 2 or 3 years. But in an attacking defense you got to have the horses. The first time Gunther was here he had DT and Neil Smith, and they were great. His second tour of duty w/ KC wasn’t so great because he didn’t have the players. I bet Sutton was licking his chops when he saw the personnel the Chiefs had. A whole bunch of diamonds being misused.

    • berttheclock

      Bill Cowher had that philosophy of teaching LBs. He said it took at least 3 to 4 years to learn it. Sometimes, defensive co-ords get reputations in the league and few dare question them. Oh, you have a Ring, then, you must be a genius. However, I would rather see such as Sutton who has learned from his mistakes. Look at his record with the Jets, last season and you would have questioned his hiring by Reid and Dorsey. Perhaps, Ryan held him back with the Jets or he didn’t have the natural talent he has now with the Chiefs. Whatever, it impresses me that he is playing to the talents he has found with the Chiefs. One thing struck me in the above article and that was Poe told not to blow by opponents last year, if he could have. One play from this season really sticks out for me. In the Dallas game, he lined up straight ahead of Fredericks. At the snap, he leaped to his right. It was not a swim move as he did not stay ahead of Fredericks. He leaped just past his shoulder making Fredericks move to his left. When that happened, he leaped back to his left and exploded up field into Romo. It was as though I had seen a huge cat. Having witnessed many a cat “fight” or game by cats playing, I have seen cats make such leaps. But, a 340 athlete making such a move is still incredible to me. Yes, Romo taught him much, but, he, also, held him back. Sutton has released a monster.

      • kcpauly

        A Monster Cat, what a scary thought for opposing QB’s
        Go Chiefs!!!!!!!!!

      • freshmeat62

        I didn’t know Poe was held back last year as much as he was until reading this. But there were plays toward the end of the season last year that Poe just dominated and you just knew that there was someone special here.

  • berttheclock

    Refreshing to see a coach come in and not have that round hole square peg belief. Such try to force their ways upon the players with little consideration of what the players possess. Sutton came in and reviewed the talent he had been given and decided to use that talent to fit the respective talent’s abilities and not simply his system. Sutton appears to be very wise.

    • kcpauly

      Good observation Bert, and right on the money as usual, what a refreshing change huh?
      Go Chiefs!!!!!!!!!!!

  • berttheclock

    Hey, Paul, for a Folgers guy, you are writing well. But, sometime do try some Stumptown Hair Bender.

  • Stacy D. Smith

    The defense needs to continue to evolve. Kevin Gilbride is aware of KC’s pass rush. I expect to see him moving Manning around a bit, max protecting, or throwing quick hitters to neutralize the front 7. We also have to make sure David Wilson doesn’t hurt us on the ground. McCoy and Vick exposed some weaknesses in the run defense last week.

    • berttheclock

      In the breakdown of the running plays of Wilson, the offensive line of the Giants did run block very well. Did you notice how the Niners were able to get back on track by going back to their strength of running and excellent run blocking? Two of the long runs by Gore were based on text book run blocking which opened freeways for him. I kept thinking what will happen if our offensive line can ever get to that point. It has on occasion, but, if we could unleash Charles, the defenses would have to respect it over trying to blitz Smith.

    • Joe Myers

      I disagree I don’t think they exposed the kc run defense . I think the chiefs d gameplaned to stop the pass which left some holes open

      • Stacy D. Smith

        Scheming to stop the pass doesn’t excuse blown assignment or missed tackles.

  • berttheclock

    Sometime during the game, I would love to hear over the loudspeaker.
    “New York, you have a problem and his name is Houston”.

  • Joe Myers

    If anything what really stands out to me is TJ play he’s eating up blocks along with poe its freeing up one on one matchups for mike and Huston and hali . But huston and dj have also been pretty good on coverages

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